Skip to comments.Vendors Stuck with $100,000 Tab After (NAACP) Soiree (Milwaukee, WI)
Posted on 08/10/2005 4:36:52 PM PDT by Diana in Wisconsin
(Fewer than 100 came to event held during NAACP convention)
A month after a lavish event to honor local African-American women during the NAACP convention in Milwaukee, several local vendors involved have been left with bills totaling more than $100,000.
The event, planned in anticipation of more than 12,000 visitors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention, was put together by Grace Valentine, a local party planner. The party was not part of any official NAACP convention activities.
Oprah Winfrey's mother, Venita Lee, was to be the featured guest, along with 17 other high-profile Milwaukee women, including U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Valerie Daniels Carter and Vel Phillips.
The soiree was opulence extraordinaire: a sit-down dinner for 500 at the Milwaukee Art Museum's dramatic atrium featuring shrimp papaya salad, Hoisin-glazed beef short ribs, a fashion show with New York models, a live band, an open bar and guest speaker Omarosa from "The Apprentice."
Days earlier, Lee said she couldn't come, Valentine said.
And when checks started bouncing before the July 11 event even began, local vendors feared that they would be left empty-handed.
"I should have figured when no one was there at 6 p.m. for an event that started at 6 p.m.," said Vesna Madunic, owner of Gracious Catering, which provided the food.
In the end, fewer than 100 people paid for the dinner, Madunic estimated, and her staff had to toss mounds of untouched shrimp, Ahi tuna and white chocolate mousse in the trash behind the art museum.
"There was nothing we could do to save all that food once it had been heated," Madunic said.
The damage is still being assessed. So far, unpaid bills include Gracious Catering: $70,000; Private Gardener Florist: $4,700; Hotel Metro: $4,572.59 for seven rooms, including room service and restaurant charges. Wauwatosa police are investigating, said Madunic and Valentine. Gracious Catering is in Wauwatosa.
Hotel Metro sued Valentine; she has until today to answer, or a default judgment will likely be entered against her, according to court records.
Valentine said Tuesday that she has not yet paid the art museum, the linen rental company, the business that printed the invitations, the limousine service that transported the models or the musicians. A museum spokesman wouldn't say how much, if any, rent is owed.
Both Madunic and Victoria Vonier, who owns Private Gardener, said they normally check customers' backgrounds before taking on such big orders, but they were impressed with Valentine's intentions to highlight the accomplishments of local women.
"I think she meant well," Madunic said.
Valentine, 49, said she was "only trying to do something nice" and is working on paying her bills. She blames the city for the poor turnout at her event.
"Milwaukee didn't support it," she said. "They said there would be 12,000 in town for the convention. That's false advertising."
Official attendance of delegates and guests was closer to 8,000, NAACP chairman Julian Bond reported just after the convention ended.
That explanation does not assuage the business with outstanding bills.
"She was piggybacking on the convention, trading on the name of the NAACP," Madunic said. "This is a big blow to us financially."
Vonier said she feels duped by Valentine who, Vonier said, referred to herself as a NAACP representative. The first check Valentine gave her bounced, Vonier said. Valentine told her the money would be arriving later that day.
"She told me that she had sponsorship lined up," Vonier said. "I don't like being lied to."
Valentine, a fashion designer who said she is just starting to get in to the party-planning business, said she thought she did have sponsors lined up, but "unfortunately, they fell through."
She said she started the Goddess Awareness Group two years ago to celebrate women.
"There are too many bad images of women today, especially African-American women," Valentine said. "The sexual exploitation is way over the top."
She said she began planning the dinner in February and began to advertise it on her Web site, http://www.thegoddessawarenessgroup.com Tickets ranged from $100 for a seat at the "Athena/Strength" table to $400 for the "Gaia/Abundance" table. The invitation describes it as tax deductible event. Valentine said she collected money for tickets in advance and at the door but couldn't say how much.
"I have it written down somewhere," she said. "I'm not sure where just now."
Valentine says she is upset that she's being investigated for possible criminal charges.
"This was supposed to be a very positive event," she said. "People didn't support it. Is that my fault? No. It really isn't. I put myself on the line. It's not like I stole this money."
Planning for the event began with high hopes, she said.
Valentine said she went on public television to try and generate interest but did not advertise in any newspapers or on commercial radio or television.
"I was counting on word of mouth from this big convention we were supposed to have," she said.
The "celebration" began at 6 p.m. with hors d' oeuvres. At 7 p.m., the fashion show began. Dinner was served at 8 p.m., followed by Omarosa's remarks. Music was provided by The Real Deal and Tori Green of New York.
Valentine said she has learned a valuable lesson from the whole experience: "People don't have a lot of money."
She said she hoped to recoup her losses and pay her bills by selling some clothes from her fashion line and perhaps to host another event.
"If you have any suggestions, I'd be glad to hear them," she said.
Wow. They couldn't find a SINGLE Food Pantry or Soup Kitchen in ALL of Milwaukee, WI to donate the food? How's that for helpin' out your Sistah Goddesses that are down on their luck? ;)
I'm still not sure what the @$#@) the appeal was supposed to be. Oprah's mom?
They should accept the loss as their contribution to the cause.....fightin "the man".....for solidarity....right on.
And now they can thank you Ms. Valentine, for contributing to that image!
"Goddess Awareness Group" Unintentioned acronym is GAG.
"I think she meant well," Madunic said.
Bwahahaha! Something about the road to hell comes to mind..
GAG! Ha! Ha! Nice catch!
$70,000 catering dollars divided by an anticipated crowd of 500 people is $140 per person. And they sold tickets for $100ea. What lamebrain came up with this idea? It was doomed to fail before it started!
"There are too many bad images of women today..."
Pinging the irony meter!
This is hilarious.....except for the poor dupes that got stiffed by the perp. Why didn't the hostess invite people in from homeless shelters to eat the left over delicasies? What a waste!
Must ... [chortle] ... control ... [guffaw] ... schadenfreude ...
No....some tickets were $400. For a seat at the big girl table. LOL
Oprah will pay. She will. If her Mom was advertised as the featured guest, and then she backed out, it's only right.
There may be laws against that. A lot of restaurants can't donate left over food in many circumstances.
In defense of the caterers, it is against most city food service ordinances to give this kind of food away. Food that is cooked and plated must either be eaten at the event or thrown out. There are too many problems with food spoilage to try to save it for anyone else. It is also likely their business liability insurance requires them to either serve it at the event it was made for or trash it.
You GO Girl!
Yes... but it's all done on the hush hush, right? There really is no way to box it all up and send it to Meals on Wheels.